Launching less than a week after the Super Bowl, the XFL is looking to harness the fan excitement for more football on social media.
During the NFL playoffs in January, the XFL added nearly 600,000 followers to its social media channels. In the 48 hours following Super Bowl LIV, it pulled in an additional 200,000 to 300,000 followers. XFL has more than 226,500 and 224,500 followers on Twitter and Instagram, respectively.
“In just a couple short days, we’re kicking off and we’re going to be playing football on days and times when people are used to watching football – and we have a great platform to do it,” Fred Harner, senior vice president of content and media, said.
As the XFL has built towards its season opener on February 8, Harner and his team have used a two-pronged approach to its digital and social strategy.
The first step has been to educate football fans on what the league is and what makes it different.
This includes social media coverage around announcements like the XFL’s logo and team name reveals in August and uniform unveilings in December. Weeks before the league’s first game, it also released a series of vignettes detailing its rules, which Harner claims has seen success across all of its platforms, especially YouTube.
“I saw it as a great opportunity to inform and educate and entertain an audience that’s hungry for more football,” Harner said. “It was really a blank slate, and I think as somebody that’s been in content for a long time, to be able to create rather than jump into something that’s been established for years was just really exciting to me.”
Despite the XFL never having taken an official snap, the league is seeing growth across a variety of social media channels.
Already, the league boasts an average engagement rate of nearly 9%, with Instagram alone reaching 14%. According to influencer marketing platform Scrunch, an average engagement rate between 1% and 3.5% on Instagram is considered “good.”
TikTok is also generating social media interest for the league. Since launching its account on Dec. 13, the league has accumulated more than 58,600 followers and nearly 730,000 likes on the ByteDance-owned app.
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The league’s following is growing by roughly 1,000 followers per day, Harner said, and is 34% female heading into the Feb. 8 season opener – significantly higher than its other social media platforms.
“We’re starting to reach a new fan base and I think we’ll have new opportunities to create content appropriate for it,” Harner said. “It’s still really early days for us on TikTok, but we’ve been pleased so far.”
The second piece of the XFL’s social strategy focuses on the league’s most important element: the on-the-field product. Fielding big-time former college football names like Cardale Jones, Aaron Murray and ex-Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops gives the XFL a chance to reintroduce them to fans.
“Football fans don’t stop being football fans when the Super Bowl is over, and the XFL will fill the void for elite-level highlights, competition, and regional rivalries,” Mason Bates, account director for sponsorships and content at Mindshare, said.
“The league and teams have harnessed that momentum into creative pieces, smartly placing some of their most famous athletes and coaches, who are well-known college football stars, at the center of a lot of their digital and social communications,” Bates added.
There’s also apparent interest from football fans to keep the sport alive post-Super Bowl. While some question the XFL’s decision to debut six days following Super Bowl LIV, a recent study commissioned with Mckinsey & Company showed that roughly 38 million people want to keep watching football after the NFL season ends.
“The NFL news cycle is at its slowest point in the weeks after the Super Bowl, and football fans want more than the off-field speculation that leads into the NFL Draft,” Bates said. “The XFL is smartly harnessing fan excitement for more football, which should truly help them capture attention.”
While there’s still uncertainty around the gridiron product, Harner said he thinks that the XFL’s high engagement numbers on social media show that fans are eager – and ready – for more football.